People are talking about Sinclair Broadcast Group (SBG) because of a creepy video of Sinclair news anchors from all over the country reading an identical script about Fake News that sounded straight out of the brain of Donald Trump. You might not have heard of or realize you're watching Sinclair because they aren't as flashy as Fox News or CNN, but they are just as powerful. They're the largest owner of local television stations in the nation, with 173 stations in 81 broadcast markets on their roster. They reach 39% of households, and they've just made an acquisition that, if approved by the FCC, would allow them to reach more than 70%. Oy.
Nah. Sinclair has long been criticized for their right-leaning coverage on national issues. Former Trump team members even have segments on their programming where they defend Trump and promote Republican points of view. Sinclair even has a "Terrorist Alert Desk" that is supposed to produce content about terrorism but, as John Oliver put it, is basically just about Muslims. During the 2016 election, they aired favorable coverage of Trump and talked ad nauseum about Hillary's emails. Back when Obama was president, the group ran infomercials from Republican PACs that claimed Obama was raising money from Hamas, a Palestine militant group. It goes far back as 2004 when they ran the documentary that created the term "swiftboating" to question Sen. John Kerry's war record during his presidential campaign.
Well, as we mentioned at the top, Sinclair is actually going to get bigger. They're waiting on the FCC to approve their purchase of Tribune Media, which would add 42 more stations to their roster. If the sale goes through, Sinclair will have the ability to reach more than 70% of all TV-watching audiences. Typically, the FCC doesn't allowed companies to reach more than 39% of households. So in order to "meet" this requirement, Sinclair is selling stations in eight markets to friends where it will still have a direct influence on the content and abusing an outdated FCC loophole. Given that Trump's goonie, Ajit Pai, currently runs the FCC, it seems more than likely the deal will go through.
It's kind of technical and boring, but basically television stations use two kinds of wavelengths to broadcast, VHF or UHF. Until 2009, VHF traveled farther than UHF thus making them more valuable. The FCC gave companies a "UHF discount" so that only half of a UHF station's audience would count towards the 39% limit. In 2009 stations switched to digital and in 2016 the FCC eliminated the "discount" because this advantage was gone. But our good buddy Ajit Pai reversed that, so the discount is back in. So...thanks to the UHF discounts, Sinclair's reach through this "discounted" FCC lense is around 45% instead of the actual reach of 70%, and that's a lot closer to the 39% limit.
Actually… Sinclair's growing influence is frightening because 23 million Americans tune into the evening local news and 12 million watch the early morning local news. That's vastly larger than the audiences of CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC (which get only about 3 million primetime viewers daily). Plus, since Sinclair's properties are mostly local news affiliates of major networks we don't associate with conservative politics, many of those people will be getting biased news program without even realizing it.